Garret Houts had the chance to be the hero.
The Trojans’ junior outfielder stood at the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning. USC trailed UC Santa Barbara 3-2.
After entering the game as a defensive replacement, Houts already had the best defensive play of the day when he hosed a runner at home plate to end a Gauchos’ rally.
As has been the case so far this season, however, the Trojans couldn’t find a hero. Instead, USC (3-9) left the bases loaded as Houts struck out and junior Kevin Roundtree grounded out to end the game, giving the Gauchos (7-5) the 3-2 win.
“I felt like I let [the team] down a little bit,” said USC interim coach Frank Cruz. “A big key when you play these one-run games is helping these guys. I’ve got to help them get over the hump.”
The loss is the Trojans’ eighth consecutive defeat, including five one-run games.
“It’s so difficult to swallow and so hard to watch the guys go through,” a somber Cruz said. “They deserve better.”
Situational hitting continues to plague USC.
Despite getting a runner on base in all but one inning and getting the leadoff hitter on base six times, the Trojans managed only one hit with runners in scoring position.
UC Santa Barbara pitcher Nick Loredo picked up the win with seven and one-third innings of solid work, even though he was only expected to throw a couple of innings.
Junior starting pitcher Brandon Garcia was solid through the first four innings for USC, allowing only a single run in the fourth inning.
But he picked up the loss after running into trouble in the fifth inning.
After allowing a pair of singles to lead off for the second consecutive inning, Garcia was pulled from the game.
When junior reliever Ben Mount entered, he was met by Sean Williams’ double that scored both runners and gave UC Santa Barbara a 3-0 lead.
The Gauchos threatened again in the bottom of the seventh inning after Steven Moon hit a line drive over the head of junior left fielder Ricky Oropesa for a standup triple.
But Houts erased Moon when he tried to tag up on a fly out.
“That was a big, big time throw. He put it on the money and Roundtree did a nice job blocking the plate,” Cruz said. “That gave us momentum.”
USC carried that momentum into its at- bat. Houts walked and Roundtree singled. Following a sacrifice, Oropesa drove in a pair of runs with a single to right field that cut the lead to 3-2.
But the Trojans couldn’t get the big hit the next inning.
“Our pitching staff has done what we’ve asked them to do. We walked just one batter and that was [an] intentional [walk],” Cruz said. “We just didn’t have hits when it was time.”
Cruz described the losing streak as a “slow, slow torture” with all the one-run losses and late-inning opportunities USC has had. But he thinks if the guys stick together and keep working, the team can get on a roll.
“Look out when we get one. I think it will really loosen up the guys,” Cruz said. “We just have to stay positive and keep on battling.”
The Trojans will be back in action Friday when they host Saint Mary’s at 6 p.m. in the opening game of the Dodgertown Classic.